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Study: Caesarean section births see significant fall since start of pandemic

Before the pandemic, the number of preterm C-sections and induced deliveries had been rising.

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Premature births from cesarian (C-sections) and induced deliveries fell by 6.5% during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic and remained consistently lower throughout. (Georgia Tech via SWNS)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

The number of women giving birth by Caesarean section and induced delivery has seen a "significant" fall since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, reveals a new study.

The findings raises questions about medical interventions in pregnancy and whether some decisions by doctors may result in "unnecessary" preterm deliveries, say researchers.

The first large-scale study of COVID-era delivery data found that premature births from C-sections and induced deliveries fell by 6.5 percent during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic - and remained consistently lower throughout.

Researchers believe the fall is a likely result of fewer prenatal visits due to efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Study lead author Dr. Daniel Dench said: "While much more research needs to be done, including understanding how these changes affected fetal deaths and how doctors triaged patient care by risk category during the pandemic, these are significant findings that should spark discussion in the medical community."

Lockdowns as a result of COVID-19 had a side effect of reducing prenatal care visits by more than a third, according to one analysis.

Dr. Dench and his colleagues examined records of nearly 39 million births in the United States from 2010 to 2020.

They used the datas to forecast expected premature births - defined as babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy - from March to December 2020. Then they compared the predictions to the actual numbers.

The team found that in March 2020 - when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, sparking business closures and widespread lockdowns - preterm births from C-sections or induced deliveries immediately fell from the forecasted number by 0.4 percentage points.

From March 2020 to December 2020, the number remained on average 0.35 percentage points below the predicted values, translating to 350 fewer preterm C-sections and induced deliveries per 100,000 live births, or 10,000 fewer overall.

Before the pandemic, the number of preterm C-sections and induced deliveries had been rising.

Spontaneous preterm births - those that were not induced or Caesarean - also fell by a small percentage in the first months of the pandemic, but much less than births involving the two factors.

The number of full-term Caesarean and induced deliveries increased.

Dr. Dench, an Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech's School of Economics, said: "If you look at 1,000 births in a single hospital, or even at 30,000 births across a hospital system, you wouldn't be able to see the drop as clearly.

"The drop we detected is a huge change, but you might miss it in a small sample.

"We know for certain that doctors' interventions cause preterm delivery, and for good reason most of the time.

"So, when I saw the change in preterm births, I thought, if anything changed preterm delivery, it probably had to be some change in how doctors were treating patients."

He said the findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, raise a "critical" question about whether the pre-pandemic level of doctor intervention was necessary.

Dr. Dench said: "It's really about, how does this affect fetal health?

"Did doctors miss some false positives - did they just not deliver the babies that would have survived anyway? Or did they miss some babies that would die in the womb without intervention?"

Now he plans to use foetal death records from March to December 2020 to answer the question.

Dr. Dench added: "This is just the start of what I think will be an important line of research."

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